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B92 Focus, March 2003.


Djindjic death casts shadow over Belgrade
| March 13, 2003.

The Times

Laying a single red rose on the steps of the government building, Jovan Dimitrijevic, a 70-year-old pensioner, cried openly over the murder hours earlier of Serbia's Prime Minister.

"This is the work of criminal minds, those who want to pull us back into Milosevic's darkness," he said.

At 12.35pm Zoran Djindjic, the 50-year-old reformist and scourge of Slobodan Milosevic, was shot in the back and abdomen by sniper's bullets as he left his bullet-proof limousine and crossed the car park in front of the government buildings.

Guards covered his body instantly and rushed him to Belgrade's Clinical Centre, but he was pronounced dead within the hour.

Last night the Government blamed the Zemun clan, a Belgrade criminal group. "The assassination . . . represents an attempt by this group to stop the fight against organised crime," the Government said.

Earlier it declared three days of national mourning and acting President Natasa Micic imposed a state of emergency amid fears that the assassination could prompt a military coup, sweeping aside Belgrade's fragile democracy.

Soon uniformed officers, carrying machineguns and wearing bullet-proof vests, were crawling over local cafés, searching cars and checking identities.

Heavy state security sealed off the government complex, where three ambulances remained parked into the evening. But as the initial shock wore off, Belgrade residents soon converged on the scene in an outpouring of grief.

Nada, a 60-year-old mother of three, was nearly in tears. "It's very sad to be living here right now," she said. "All my children have left Serbia and I'm happy they did. Shame on all of us."

Stunned officials held an emergency session and named Nebojsa Covic, the Deputy Prime Minister and a former Mayor of Belgrade, as acting Prime Minister.

"This criminal act is a clear attempt by those who in the past have tried to stop Serbia's progress and democratisation by assassinations to change the course of history and once again isolate Serbia and turn it into a criminals' haven," Mr Covic said.

Belgrade's international airport closed and all bus, rail and aircraft traffic halted as police cast a wide net for the assassins. Three people were arrested but they did not appear to have been directly responsible for the murder.

It was the first assassination of a European Prime Minister since the murder of Sweden's Olof Palme in 1986. Last night leaders around the world condemned the killing. Tony Blair said that he was "deeply shocked" by Dr Djindjic's violent death.

"His murder is a loss to all those, from whatever political party, who have made strenuous efforts to deliver a better future for Serbia," he said.

Ari Fleischer, President Bush's spokesman, said that Dr Djindjic would be remembered for his role in "bringing democracy to Serbia and for his role in bringing Slobodan Milosevic to justice".

Carla Del Ponte, Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, said that he had shown courage in putting his political life on the line to uphold the authority of the court established in 1993 to prosecute Balkan war criminals.

"Prime Minister Djindjic was our first supporter in the co-operation with this office of the tribunal," she said. "I lost a friend."

In spite of the shock to the nation, the murder of the handsome crusader for democracy was hardly unexpected. It was the second attempt in less than a month on the life of the Machiavellian reformist who headed Serbia's first post-war non-communist government in January 2001, three months after helping to topple Mr. Milosevic in a popular uprising.

Dr Djindjic was raised and educated first in Belgrade and later attained a doctorate in philosophy from Konstanz University in Germany. He had many enemies because of his tough push for economic reform and his role in engineering Mr. Milosevic's arrest and extradition to the United Nations court in The Hague, where he is on trial for war crimes committed during the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

In return he was awarded with $1.2 billion in international economic aid. Recently Dr Djindjic had also responded to intense Western pressure by launching a crackdown on organised crime, including Belgrade mobsters who had previously supported him.

Dr Djindjic had outraged nationalists by seeking to accommodate Western demands for the extradition to the war crimes tribunal of Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader, and Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb commander wanted for the massacre of
around 7,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995.

He was planning to dismiss General Arsa Tomic, head of the feared KOS military intelligence service that was thought to be protecting Mladic. He was expected to name Zoran Zivkovic, a close aide, as Serbia's Defence Minister, diplomatic sources said.

Zoran Djindjic

Born: 1952 in Bosanki Samac, Bosnia, son of a Yugoslav Army officer

Education: read philosophy at University of Belgrade. Doctorate from Konstanz University, Germany

Family: married, two children

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